Monday, February 28, 2011

Movie Preview: March 2011

Is March here to save us from theater-going woes? It would appear so on paper.

Article first published as Movie Preview: March 2011 on Blogcritics.

Now that the worst is hopefully finally over (cough February cough), are we finally closing in on the good stuff? Admittedly, January wasn’t a total bust, there was some fun to be had, and Sundance was a total blast as expected. However, I think February decided to make up for it. While the summer movie season doesn’t hit full tilt until May, there is still almost too much to look forward to in March, let alone April (so much so that we’ll have to get to that one in a few weeks).

March 4

Picking up the slack from the abomination that was “Gnomeo and Juliet,” comes “Rango,” a new computer-animated family flick I’ve been anticipating since we first saw that orange wind up fish toy float across our screens. At first everyone clamored that it was “too weird” and there were lots of “I don’t get its,” I’ve been expecting good times from director Gore Verbinski working with Johnny Depp for a fourth time now. Even if not in another “Pirates” film. With Timothy Olyphant, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina, Ned Beatty, Stephen Root and Ray Winstone rounding out the voice cast, Verbinski and writer John Logan (“Sweeney Todd,” “The Aviator,” “Gladiator”) have my anticipation set even higher as the full length trailers and TV spots fare much better than anything we’ve seen for “Cars 2.”

George Nolfi may not be a household name but he’s dipped his hand in some pretty good stuff so far. Crafting his mold by working alongside everyone from Richard Donner to Steven Soderbergh to Paul Greengrass, it was probably only a matter of time before he brought his best screenplay yet to the big screen all by himself. Expect a full review on “The Adjustment Bureau” soon. While the creators of “That ‘70s Show” tried their hand at '80s fare before with “That ‘80s Show” and failed before, try, try again I suppose. Writers Jackie and Jeff Filgo are at it again with the appropriately titled “Take Me Home Tonight” starring Topher Grace no less. If that movie title doesn’t immediately spring to mind the song it’s taken from and bathe you in a sense of the ‘80s then apparently you were asleep for 10 years and have never watched VH1 for a second. Hopefully the film is as fun as its trailer with Anna Faris, Michelle Trachtenberg, Dan Fogler and Chris Pratt along for the shenanigans.

March 11

It’s a busy day as we get a fix of aliens and period drama. Disney unleashes its latest dismal-looking Robert Zemeckis-produced motion capture flick, “Mars Needs Moms” which had me hopeful until I saw the trailer. Now all the fun has been sucked out of it by the endlessly lifeless humans and their inexpressive faces once again. It hasn’t worked before (“Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” and worstly “Disney's A Christmas Carol”) so go ahead, Zemeckis, prove me wrong! Meanwhile Jonathan Liebesman will try to prove us all right that the man can finally make a good movie with the less family friendly “Battle: Los Angeles.” Thankfully all of the trailers have made it look head and shoulders above his previous entries consisting of “Darkness Falls” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” Here’s to hoping.

Meanwhile, two oft-told, well-known tales get updated versions competing for recognition. The better looking of the two belongs to “Sin Nombre’s” director Cary Fukunaga’s thriller tone twist on the classic “Jane Eyre.” With Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Craig Roberts and Sally Hawkins in the mix, should at least be some great acting to say the least. On the other hand, the director of the first “Twilight” installment brings us an updating of “Red Riding Hood.” I’m sure they dropped the “Little” once they cast Amanda Seyfried in the lead but Catherine Hardwicke’s sets all look like she’s filmed on a high school auditorium and we all know her idea of sensuality is people staring at each other and biting their lips for two hours. Hopefully Seyfried will maintain the watchability factor as there’s no doubt Gary Oldman will overact to steal the show, and why not?

March 18

With the last name of Burger, let’s hope that director Neil Burger can bring something tasty to the table with “Limitless.” While the screenwriting duties of Leslie Dixon over the past ten years may make her seem out of place (“The Heartbreak Kid,” “Hairspray,” “Just Like Heaven,” “Freaky Friday,” and “Pay It Forward”), none of those films have been complete busts with more wins than losses. And seeing how Burger gave us “The Illusionist” (2006), underseen thanks to Christopher Nolan’s superior “The Prestige;” a story about an enhancement drug could be the right fix to bring his career to the forefront. Having Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro in front of the cameras hopefully help too, however, their hit to miss ratio have been more middling lately than most so we’ll just have to see.

While Matthew McConaughey tries to prove he can still act in a movie you’ve never heard of called “The Lincoln Lawyer,” the real winner of this weekend will undoubtedly befall upon yet another alien movie for sure. However, “Paul” happens to feature the awe inspiring conglomeration of director Greg Mottola (“Arrested Development,” “Superbad,” “Adventureland”), writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (“Spaced,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”), and a true slew of additional funny people: Seth Rogen (voicing the title alien), Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, Jeffrey Tambor and David Koechner; this film is primed to explode with hilarity.

March 25

Finally we get a weekend that seems to live up to the title of at least one of the films coming out. While absolutely no one saw this sequel coming, a second “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is headed our way. I know everyone has mortgage payments to make, but Steve Zahn, you’re better than this! So alas, along comes Zack Snyder to make up for the final 30 minutes that his “Owls of Ga’Hoole” turned into once it never recovered its blundering pop song montage blundering. Hot chicks kicking major ass and visual wonderment rears its head in a new blue screen extravaganza as Snyder gives us a cinematic “Sucker Punch.” Casting Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung and Carla Gugino to wear as little as possible while maneuvering through fight scenes has sold me since the first teaser arrived. Come male or female, if this film doesn’t entice you, you need to check your pulse. Throwing Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn into the mix can’t hurt things either.

With such a busy month we’ll all just have to wait to see what April will be throwing our way, but spoiler alert, summer may be arriving early, that is if Ghostface himself doesn’t kill us with scares and laughs first. Bet you can’t tell which movie I’m personally most excited for. So until then, I’ll be right back!

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Review: "Drive Angry 3D"

Who knew 3-D (and Nicolas Cage) could still be so much fun? February has been saved!

Rated R for strong brutal violence throughout, grisly images, some graphic sexual content, nudity and pervasive language.
104 minutes
Summit Entertainment
**** out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Drive Angry 3D on Blogcritics.

And at the buzzer, February 2011 finally finds itself a winner at your local multiplex. Yes, it has been a dreadful month. With the likes of “Sanctum,” “The Roommate,” “Just Go With It,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “The Eagle,” that “Bieber” movie, “Big Momma 3” and “I Am Number Four,” we deserve a break! I have not seen “Hall Pass” but it doesn’t sound like I’ll be missing a lot even with my appreciatiation of the Farrelly Brothers. So without further ado, I present to you a film that finally deserves to have a big opening weekend before March pounces and that film happens to be none other than “Drive Angry 3D.”

Brought to us by the same team behind “My Bloody Valentine 3D” (director Patrick Lussier and writer Todd Farmer), these two have had their hands in quite a few other great films. As well as their fair share of bad. For every “Drive Angry” or “Valentine,” there’s also “Dracula 2000” (along with its two direct-to-video sequels), so I suppose Lussier was simply cutting his teeth before unleashing his two most recent ventures. As an editor, Lussier has worked mostly with Wes Craven with a dash of Guillermo del Toro for good measure. While he may be a better editor than director, he’s definitely getting better with each project.

Farmer is best known to horror fanboys for writing up genre offerings that have almost literally been one bad followed by one good (“Jason X,” “The Messengers,” “My Bloody Valentine,” “Messengers 2” and now “Drive Angry”). Hopefully this doesn’t mean that the team's next film, “Halloween III,” will be a disappointment. If it happens to be, don’t worry, they’re rebooting the ol’ Pinhead himself and finally getting a new “Hellraiser” feature off the ground. Seeming to have found their niche however, I suspect that their movies are going to get far more gruesome and inject those two now dire franchises with some new sparks.

Milton (Nicolas Cage) is out of Hell and hellbent on finding Jonah King (Billy Burke), the man who killed his daughter and is about to sacrifice Milton’s baby granddaughter come next full moon. Hot on Milton’s trail is the Devil’s “Accountant” (William Fichtner), aka the Grim Reaper, who’s not afraid to pose as an FBI agent while seducing horny waitresses for leads. Piper (Amber Heard, America’s hottest bisexual) has just quit her job and left her boyfriend Frank (Farmer himself, “reprising” his role from “Valentine”) and taken his car. With Milton, the Accountant, and Piper leaving a wake of bloody vengeance, mayhem, and carnage in their wake, it’s a race to Stillwater, Louisiana to save Milton’s granddaughter even if it means he finds himself back to whence he came.

As I mentioned, Lussier is really coming into his own here. While things may not have been as splattery as I expected, he still makes far better use out of the 3-D format than anyone in the studio game thinking that conversion is still a viable enterprise. Actually shooting in 3-D also gives the film the much needed authenticity the format deserves these days even if some of the effects look like they weren’t quite finished. Which of course only adds to the fun fitting the film right in alongside the exploitation throwbacks of “Grindhouse” and “Machete.”

The only thing dragging things down is a weird need to give anyone in the film some form of characterization which always puts the film in neutral, even if for only a few moments, and the devil worshiping aspects have their moments of taking themselves too seriously which come off more mean spirited than the fun we were just having in the prior scene. And the whole thing could've been trimmed by about ten minutes. But it is nice to have Crazy Cage on camera again even if Fichtner gets all the best one liners along with the bigger, better, funnier jokes. Although, if you thought the sex scene shoot out in “Shoot ‘Em Up: was hilarious, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. So sit down, buckle up, shut off your brain, and enjoy the show as “Drive Angry 3D” brings its own blood spattered checkered flag to the February finish line.

Photos courtesy Summit Entertainment

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Movie Review: "Sons of Perdition"

Their break from fundamentalism isn't the great escape they thought it would be.

Rated R
85 minutes
Left Turn Pictures
**** out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Sons of Perdition (2010) on Blogcritics.

As much as I may not heart the documentary genre as much as others, sometimes it’s when something hits close to home that it becomes more interesting. With the new doc “Sons of Perdition,” while maybe not in the literal sense of “close to home” as much as basically in my own backyard, it does. If people think there are ongoing issues regarding Utah, Arizona and its borders, there’s “immigration” problems of their own happening down in St. George, UT.

It’s in the small border towns of Hilldale, UT and Colorado City, AZ known as “The Crick” where there be polygamists afoot. A small group of teenage boys have finally had enough and decide they’re leaving their messed up world behind. What they don’t know is that without a permanent address or their social security cards they are unable to so much as attend high school, let alone seek out employment. Their families think it would have been better if they’d died than simply run away.

Sam is 17 with dyed blonde hair and a surfer attitude with a southern accent who describes his father’s showing of love to be choking him. Joe is also 17 who is so sheltered and suppressed he doesn’t even know what comic books are. Suzanne (Joes’s older sister) may be raising a baby of her own now but has no clue what the U.S. capital is. Bruce (Sam’s cousin) is the youngest at 15 and all of them wind up living together at one point or another as they either seek out individualism or adoption. Even the Army won’t take Sam or Joe. It’s only in the jobs corp that Sam can find a sense of belonging and worth.

Featuring the creepiest voiceover narrations ever from “The Prophet” Warren Jeffs to escape attempts by Joe’s mother and sisters, if you thought polygamy was freaky before (“Big Love,” “Sister Wives”), you ain’t seen nothing yet. Unfortunately, the film misses out on the opportunity to show the division of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints versus the rest of that organized religion. The sect is not a recognized sanction. With interviews ranging from a private investigator (Sam Brower) to author Jon Krakauer (“Under the Banner of Heaven” about fundamentalist Mormonism) it really raises the stakes in showing what a problem it’s truly becoming.

As if most men don’t already complain about having one wife, imagine having upwards of 80. If you’ve ever wondered why fundamentalism in the movies is always shown in the extreme featuring violence and supreme suppression, the stories told here shine a light as to why, it is truly frightening stuff. Just wait till you see Sam turn on a recording of Jeffs’ children singing a song and the creepiest smile ever spreads across his face as he begins to sing along don’t tell me there’s not something rotten in the state of Denmark.

The filmmakers of “Sons of Perdition” have also partnered with Holding Out Help, a Utah based non-profit organization to which one may make financial donations or offer goods and/or services. And having already been acquired by the “Oprah Winfrey Network” after playing the Tribeca Film Festival, you can also catch a local screening if you live in those areas and the trailer is online as well.

Photos courtesy Left Turn Films

Friday, February 11, 2011

Movie Review: "Just Go with It"

Maybe if we don't, they'll stop making these.

Rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language.
116 minutes
Columbia Pictures
** out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Just Go With It on Blogcritics.

Oh how the “mighty” have fallen. I remember there used to be a time (the '90s) when it seemed that some of the funniest movies happened to feature a certain “Saturday Night Live” alum. That man was Adam Sandler. He was the reigning king of comedy from his headlining debut “Billy Madison” he walked me through the shallows of guilty laughs. From then on he brought us a string of hits including my favorites – “Happy Gilmore” (still his funniest), “The Wedding Singer” (his sweetest) and “Punch-Drunk Love” (ultimately his best). The streak has been broken and continued to clang along as he bombards us with his latest vacation reel, “Just Go with It.”

Sandler can really make his performances work when he’s got decent material and a director to keep him reigned in or at least a director who knows how to make a joke work. Dennis Dugan, please send in your Hollywood resignation ASAP, I can take no more. The jig is up, you are no director. You are the man assigned to hold Sandler’s camera on said vacations. Just because you and the rest of the Happy Madison cronies decided you wanted to go on vacation in Hawaii does not mean you should tarnish the memories of what used to be “Cactus Flower.” Originally a stage play then the film starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn, now we get Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, two obnoxious child actors (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck) and the two saving graces of the film Brooklyn Decker and Nick Swardson. Decker shows some surprising charm amidst the clowns while Swardson can make administering CPR to a sheep even mildly amusing.

In “Just Go with It,” we meet Danny (Sandler) who has just overheard that his fiancé has been cheating on him. Instead of getting married he winds up at a bar where he uses the power of the lie and his wedding band to get him laid. Thinking he’s come up with the greatest scheme ever he delves into a life of no responsibility and winds up one of Beverly Hills’ best plastic surgeons. How he managed to pull this off is beyond me as all of his patients belong in “SNL” Halloween sketches.

Pressing onward, Danny meets Palmer (Decker) at a party and they have sex on the beach. She tells him she can tell when he’s lying and when he’s not but all of this is laid mute when she finds his wedding band in his pants pockets. To add insult to injury he explains (i.e. lies) to Palmer that he’s getting divorced but of course she wants to meet his soon-to-be ex-wife for proof. Soon enough, Danny ropes in his office admin Katherine (Aniston) and eventually her two kids Maggie and Michael (Madison and Gluck). Through even more lies and miscommunication this side of the worst sitcom pilots (complete with a live audience as the crowd I saw was dumb enough to eat it all up), the group flies off to Hawaii so Danny can keep his promise to Michael for him to swim with dolphins thankfully with his cousin Eddie (Swardson) in tow.

If you thought Dugan was inept after the recent failures that were “Grown Ups,” “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” “The Benchwarmers” and “National Security,” he seems to be in a holding pattern of “devlin.” (This is what Katherine has taught her kids to say instead of using the word “shit.”) With “Just Go with It,” this is definitely his least offensive affair in the last eight years but now we get a double whammy when him Sandler unleash “Jack and Jill” upon us sometime later this year. Here’s a film that plays it so safe that there’s absolutely no consequences whatsoever and the finale seems to have involved the writing committee sitting around seeing who can hit the Staples button first.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a real director (Judd Apatow, James L. Brooks or hell, maybe even Paul Thomas Anderson) stepped in behind the camera on one of these Happy Madison productions and see what happens. The mess of a script from “The Dilemma’s” Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling was probably puked on and rewritten by every cast member or left open to interpretation via improv as proven by one scene where Sandler and Aniston prove just how little chemistry they really have in a hallway where it feels like eternity before the banter finally breaks. However, we’ll never get to see the outcome of such an idea as Sandler continues to play the box office safe and continues to provide job security for all of his friends while we foot the bill. It just wouldn't be February without it.

Photos courtesy Columbia Pictures

Sundance 2011: Rest of Fest

Find out what else went down at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Article first published as Sundance 2011: Rest of Fest on Blogcritics.

My second trip to the annual Sundance Film Festival for Blogcritics, started out much differently than in 2010. A fellow press friend of mine (“Big Movie Mouth Off’s” Jimmy Martin) received a screener copy of “The Legend of Beaver Dam.” Prior to a trip to our local karaoke bar I convinced him that it would be a good idea to kick start the festival during our bar pre-party and what a grand idea. What director Jerome Sable along with his co-writer Eli Batalion have crafted is a splattacular musical comedy horror hybrid about nerdy Danny (L.J. Benet) who may or may not have saved his fellow campers from the legend of Stumpy Sam (the trailer of which you can watch here).

Another change of pace was the idea to head up to Park City opening afternoon just to pick up my press badge. Along with my “Tooele Transcript Bulletin” wife/film critic Missy and “The Reel Place’s” Luke Hickman, we hit the road and ventured up the canyon. Thankfully, along with that first trip, the weather held out for us the entire weekend. Only one snow storm hit while we were up there but not during any drive time. No hour-plus drive through a blizzard for us this year, phew!

The reason for garnering our press badges the day before the Press & Industry screenings was so that when we ventured back up the next day we could find a parking spot, jump in the cattle line and start watching some movies. Having already written full length reviews for eleven of the films I saw, I should still at least mention the rest, right?

“Submarine” - Armed to the gills with a great cast (Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts) comes the story of 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Roberts) who just wants to lose his virginity to classmate Jordana (Paige) and save his parents’ marriage from their new neighbor-“ninja” across the street, Graham (Considine). Director Richard Ayoade (“The IT Crowd”) has crafted an acutely self-aware story of adolescent selfishness but unfortunately things get far too serious in the end and the tone starts to fall apart. Still worth a look if you’re a big fan of British comedies, it reminds me of the Kiwi “Eagle vs Shark” from the 2007 Festival.

“Bobby Fischer Against the World” - Director Liz Garbus may have started this documentary off with the best of intentions, but I’m sure it was Bobby Fischer’s personal ego that got in the way. Another thing that doesn’t help is that the film spends so much time praising Fischer that it forgets to show us why he was such a genius in the world of chess. Walking out of the doc you won’t learn one new thing about how chess is played, but you will be totally convinced that Bobby Fischer is simply another crazy douchebag. Just wait until you hear his highly publicized rants regarding the World Trade Center attack and how America basically had it coming as far as he’s concerned. Yup, while I may have been slightly involved with the proceedings, the whole final 20 minutes or so leave a bad aftertaste which is not likely to be cleansed anytime soon.

There was also two short films screeners afforded to me: “All Flowers in Time” and “Satan Since 2003” – “Flowers” plays off as if David Lynch decided to remake a smash-up of “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” and “The Ring.” While Chloë Sevigny somehow gives us the most fun performance she’s given since cast to be sulky and bitchy on “Big Love,” writer/director Jonathan Caouette seems like all he wanted to do was make a 14 minute head trip and I suppose in that aspect he has at least succeeded.

With “Satan,” director Carlos Puga has crafted an often times hilarious documentary look at the world of “Hell’s Satans,” a motley moped “gang” in Richmond, Virginia. While the owner of Black Swan Books may think they cause a problem with the noise and their rambunctiousness, they just wanna have a little fun and ride their mopeds. Consisting of around 60 members, there are also different turfs and territories (including a group of zaoists who ride their mopeds to church on Sunday) across the local area and a series of hijinks eventually escalates to a moment of sheer terror for Puga involving a vehicular accident and a homemade bomb.

The rest of the fest belonged to wandering Main Street. While I did not attend any parties this year, I did get invited to and swung by, a bunch of fun lounges. Our first stop at The Studio on Main featured some great food and a glimpse of Peter Dinklage. The couture watches and spray-on tans just didn’t seem right to partake of for obvious reasons. The House of Hype LIVEstyle Lounge is where it was truly at this year, even for TV’s “Hercules’”Kevin Sorbo. The “gifting” part of the lounge was fantastic (a Paul Frank hoodie, an Insound jacket with built-in earbuds and a connector for my iPod, and an EQ bracelet) and a thankfully not Utah-liquor-law-inspired Bailey’s coffee to go.

The fun part though, was a game shoved to the back for optimum playing mode called “Yoostar2.” Featuring movie clips and integrating the Xbox Kinect or the PS3 “Eye” camera, it literally pits you right into the middle of the movies. You watch the clip, ready your lines then it’s lights, camera, action. Your score is based on reenacting the scene by reciting the dialogue. This is something that could convince me to finally invest in either the Xbox or PS3 in the future. Unfortunately I was unable to make it to the Burton House lounge but did get to stop by and say hi to the hosts of “Talking Pictures,” my friends Tony Toscano and Rich Bonaduce (who happened to swag me with some Pugs sunglasses).

In hindsight, this year was a smashing success on all fronts. Fantastic weather, great films with only one solid dud, it made me very pleased to have been able to bring Blog Critics its second (hopefully) annual coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Be on the look out for all of the films I’ve reviewed as it seems that by now they’ve all been picked up by studios ranging from IFC Films to Paramount Pictures. Between the film selections at the festival and how surprisingly good the rest of the movies brought our way for a nice January change of pace, here’s to a solid year and fingers crossed that the good times keep on rolling.

And finally, of course, here are the awards:

Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Drama: “Like Crazy,” directed by Drake Doremus
Grand Jury Prize, U.S. Documentary: “How to Die in Oregon,” directed by Peter D. Richardson
Directing Award, Dramatic: Sean Durkin, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”
Directing Award US Documentary: Jon Foy, “Resurrect Dead; The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles”
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Sam Levinson, “Another Happy Day”
US Documentary Editing Award: “If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front,” Matthew Hamachek and Marshall Curry
Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Film: Mike Cahill Brit Marling, “Another Earth”
Excellence in Cinematography, US Dramatic Film, Bradford Young, “Pariah”
Excellence in Cinematography, Documentary: Eric Strauss, Ryan Hill, Peter Hutchens, “The Redemption of General Butt Naked”
Special Jury Prize, Acting, Dramatic Film: Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”
Special Jury Prize Documentary: “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” directed by Constance Marks
US Dramatic Competition Audience Award: “Circumstance,” directed by Maryam Keshavarz
US Documentary Compettion Audience Award: “Buck,” directed by Cindy Meehl

World Cinema Audience Awards:

Documentary: “Senna,” directed by Asif Kapadia
Dramatic Prize: “Kinyarwanda,” directed by Alrick Brown
Best of Next: “to.get.her,” directed by Erica Dunton
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Prize: “Position Among the Stars”
World Cinema Documentary Award: James Marsh, “Project Nim”
World cinema documentary Award: “The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975”
World Cinematography Award, Documentary: “All Your Dead Ones”
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: “Happy Happy,” directed by Sykt Lykkelig
World Cinema Dramatic Directing Award: Paddy Considine for “Tyrannosaur”
Screenwriting Prize: Erez Kav-El for “Restoration”
World Cinema Cinematography Prize Dramatic: Diego Jimenez For “All Your Dead Ones”
World Cinema, Grand Jury Prize: Danfung Dennis' “Hell and Back Again”
World Cinema, Special Jury Prize: Olivie Colman and Peter Mulan for “Tyrannosaur”
Alfred P. Sloan Prize: “Another Earth,” directed by Mike Cahill
International Filmmakers Award: Cherien Dabis.
Jury Prize for Short Filmmaking: “Brick Novax pt 1 and 2”
Jury Prize for International Short Filmmaking: “Deeper Than Yesterday,” Ariel Klei

Movie Review: "Gnomeo & Juliet"

The musical version from “Hot Fuzz” would make a better film than this.

Rated G
84 minutes
Touchstone Pictures
* out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Gnomeo and Juliet on Blogcritics.

William Shakespeare’s classic tale of star crossed lovers has been staged and filmed countless times. Whether it’s been kept simple and pure as with Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” or modernized in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” there’s always room for another adaptation right? Or maybe not. Well, now the director of the best “Shrek” (“2”) has gone and neutered the Bard’s tale in a G-rated family version featuring feuding garden gnomes and R-rated film references in his “Gnomeo & Juliet.”

I have to admit, looking at the laundry list of director Kelly Asbury’s credits gave me a slight case of hope that this would be the underdog animated feature of the early dumping grounds of February. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. After hearing the film’s own behind the scenes tale about this being originally made for Miramax films and John Lasseter not being happy to be releasing the film at all (under Buena Vista’s Touchstone Pictures no less) should tell you something. Knowing how long Miramax and Disney have been split should give you an even better understanding behind the scrutiny (this happened clear back in 2005).

So alas, in “Gnomeo & Juliet,” we find said feuding “blue” and “red” gnomes amongst the gardens of single-old-folks-sharing-a-duplex Capulet and Montague living bickeringly on Verona Drive. The story maintains most of the original elements but seems hellbent on driving home its own modernizations including references to “American Beauty,” “Borat” and even “Brokeback Mountain.” I know studios want to keep parents entertained during these dismal kids’ affairs but they should know better than to include these kinds of film references, not to mention a character named “Shroom” along with penis and testicle jokes.

With seven screenwriters in tow, including Asbury himself, it’s no wonder that nothing gels. In an entire 84 minutes there are two jokes that work. 1) a reference to the famous line, “Out out, damn spot,” and 2) a hilarious commercial for the lawnmowers of all lawnmowers, the Terrafirminator that comes out of nowhere and makes you forget what movie you’re sitting in for at least a minute or two. This so much better than the rest of the film you can’t help but wonder if it was the work of Pixar having the last laugh by adding something as spectacularly funny as this is.

While making references to other Shakespeare works proves a given, this commercial could have single handedly been shown on its own and warranted a theatrical release far greater than what poor James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Richard Wilson, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart and poor Tigger/Pooh Bear himself Jim Cummings have been wrangled into here. When you see those names piled on top of the “celebrity” voices of Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan, and Dolly Parton, you can’t help but hang your head in shame for them all and the less said about the inclusion of producer Elton John’s classic songs the better.

So while January proved itself to be something of a blessing in disguise, I can’t help but feel that February is out to prove itself proud to be the land of films best forgot. Between this and last week’s “Sanctum,” it looks like the dreary late winter movie months is finally rearing its ugly head. However, there are still a few things coming our way shortly. Hopefully they can pick up the pieces of what “Gnomeo & Juliet” has wrought our way.

Photo courtesy Touchstone Pictures

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Movie Review: "Sanctum"

Spelunking in 3-D with unintentionally hilarious consequences.

Rated R for language, some violence and disturbing images.
109 minutes
Universal Pictures
** out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: Sanctum on Blogcritics.

I am by no means an outdoorsy person. I hate camping, despise the woods and loathe getting too dirty. Yes, I just may be one of the prissiest men when it comes to that kind of stuff and at least I can own up to it, but watching movies such as “Sanctum” is a fair reminder of totally different reasons why I avoid the outdoors all together. It’s also reminds me why some movies are made to laugh with while others you can’t help but laugh at.

Universal Pictures is doing a huge marketing campaign using the moniker of James Cameron’s name above all things “Sanctum”-related. From the trailer to posters to online ads to TV commercials, it’s all about everyone being fully aware that the creator of “Avatar” has crafted a new 3-D event. Just because someone let an inept band of filmmakers use his nifty PACE Fusion 3-D cameras to film this little spelunking gone awry action-adventure doesn’t mean he helped with the actual making of the film.

“Sanctum” starts off with Josh (Rhys Wakefield) meeting up with Carl (Ioan Gruffudd) and his girlfriend Victoria. They all board a helicopter to meet up with Josh’s father Frank (Richard Roxburgh) who’s been cave diving with his band of merry divers including Judes (Allison Cratchley) and Crazy George (Dan Wyllie). A storm is brewing above but that doesn’t stop Frank and Judes from delving deeper into the underground water and cave system to come upon the newly christened “St. Judes Cathedral.” Before you can say lets get this party started, said storm hits, the cave begins to submerge and it’s the prerequisite fight for survival commences.

If you think you’ve seen some silly action-adventure flicks before, the final third of this film gives them a sure run for the money. Why anyone would take their girlfriend with absolutely no diving experience is beyond me. And just wait till you experience the sheer awe of Carl’s surprise attack scream as he lunges out of a cave to fend off Frank who of course is the only person that can get any of them out alive. When it comes down to following the money (Carl) or the experience (Frank), you know the cast is bound to split up and we all know what that means. If there were ever more of an excuse for the crawlers of “The Descent” to rear their heads, it would be these characters. As many people have already pointed out, while this may be “inspired by true events,” Aron Ralston should be hanging his head in shame.

While “Avatar’s” use of 3-D was to envelop the audience into a whole new world, director Alister Grierson and writer John Garvin (both making their Hollywood debuts) can’t even suck you into one that already exists. Or at least the parts of it that do as there are several obviously CGI-crafted sections of this underground water system. If “Sanctum” is all an excuse for Cameron to ready us for what’s to come with his “Avatar” sequel that’s rumored to take place entirely under water then I suppose it’s a good starter. Here’s just hoping that Cameron uses his own production team to craft his world as what we get here looks like something out of a SyFy movie (although I have to admit that I’m fully looking forward to catching “Sharktopus” on Blu-ray in March).

Photos courtesy Universal Pictures

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: “The Troll Hunter”

The tagline reads, "You'll Believe It When You See It..." you'll only believe how boring it is.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: The Troll Hunter on Blogcritics.

The Park City at Midnight films sure do offer up some of the more interesting lot of the Sundance Film Festival. These are films I typically always catch at a midnight screening in Salt Lake City at the Tower Theatre. Here is where I’ve seen the likes of “Saw,” “The Descent” and last year’s needs-distribution-now cause, “Tucker & Dale vs Evil.” This year however, while I had a ticket for “Hobo with a Shotgun” but was unable to attend, I did see enough of “The Troll Hunter” to gather the opinion that it is far from in the same league as the other films mentioned.

In “Troll Hunter,” a group of Norwegian film students learn that their local government has been covering up the existence of trolls for years. They ban together with local troll hunter extraordinaire, Hans (Otto Jespersen) and learn that most people don’t see the behemoth trolls lurking out in the wilderness because they don’t believe in them enough. We also find out that trolls can smell and hate Christians (much to one student’s demise) and have a taste for sheep. Setting out with a truck bed mounted raver-styled proton pack; they set out to capture the truth even if it kills them.

Director/writer André Øvredal lets the shenanigans swing far too wildly and even more abruptly from horror to fantasy and from slapstick to satire at the drop of a hat. The film lacks focus and the use of the mockumentary film style is completely unnecessary. You can tell that Øvredal was madly seeking the next big midnight movie hit and it seems to be a real crowd pleaser based on the applause that followed the screening.

Had the film been made more traditionally the tonal shifts would have fared better and the scenes that actually worked would have really knocked it out of the park. The final joke is by far the best and funniest at least but alas, there’s just a hodgepodge of too many clashing ideas that never gel and at 104 minutes, unfortunately “The Troll Hunter” is just entirely way too long to boot. However, already snatched up by Magnet Releasing, along with this year’s other festival treats, “Hobo with a Shotgun” and “I Saw the Devil,” this is surely coming soon to a theater near you but it’s probably better to just wait for the video release.

Photo courtesy Magnet Releasing

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "The Ledge"

Take a leap of faith into fundamentalism.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: The Ledge on Blogcritics.

There were at least two extreme fundamentalist films at the Sundance Film Festival this year and this is the one I happened to see (Kevin Smith’s “Red State” being the other). Writer/director Matthew Chapman has thrown together both sides of the fence pitting an atheist (Charlie Hunnam), a self-righteous Christian (Patrick Wilson) and a cop (Terrence Howard) in a deadly love triangle putting at least one character out on “The Ledge.”

Gavin (Hunnam) wakes up and leaves for work bumping into his new neighbors, Joe and Shauna (Wilson and Liv Tyler). Gavin is immediately smitten by the beautiful Shauna on a bus ride to work and it just so happens she walks in applying for a job at the hotel he manages. Shauna’s hiring leads Joe into inviting Gavin and his mistaken-for-lover roommate (Christopher Gorham) over for dinner. After an evening or two of butting religious heads, eventually Gavin and Shauna start up an affair. Soon enough, Joe finds out about the two (even so much as listening to them bump ugly on Gavin’s kitchen counter) and now it’s up to God, err… Joe, to proposition Gavin with an offer he can’t refuse all in the name of love.

While Chapman never truly make his religious intent known it was nice to hear both sides of the argument for a change. Unfortunately, somehow the subplot of Howard’s character learning he’s been sterile from birth, yet has two children with his wife (Jaqueline Fleming), that overpowers the main story and the dénouement leaves things emotionally unfulfilled. The performances would all be great if Wilson could learn to be as good at playing intimidating as he is at just being creepy and had Chapman allowed his fellow Brit (Hunnam) to use his natural accent, Gavin would have fared far better and not lost the focus of his own tragic story. All in all, “The Ledge” is still highly worth checking out whenever IFC Films releases it whether in theaters or straight to video.

Photo courtesy IFC Films

Sundance 2011 Film Review: "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"

Possibly the most self-aware movie ever made and hilariously so.

Article first published as Sundance 2011 Film Review: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold on Blogcritics.

While I have not personally seen Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” (as I enjoy a bit of fast food every now and then and don’t want to ruin things), and heard enough about “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?” that it just didn’t interest me. However, his new documentary, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” making its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, about the crazy world of branding, advertising and product placement is a thing of beauty.

One day Spurlock came upon a grand idea expanding upon something a friend of his said – why not make a film about said film that is literally in and of itself. Beginning with advertising agencies then placement companies they ultimately started calling the corporations themselves before anyone would finally bite. Here’s a film that is fully paid for by sponsors and about finding said sponsors while also trying to find the winning endorser who’s name will be prominently featured about the film’s title: Presented by Brand X. At first it seems like a no win situation but eventually the sponsors begin to line up including but not limited to: Sheetz and Mini Cooper.

In a really funny segment Quentin Tarantino gets brought in to explain how he’s always turned down. Supposedly, the opening scenes of both “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction” were to take place within a Denny’s. So while it may seem far fetched for someone to try to make a film solely produced and paid for by sponsors, some filmmakers can’t even get sponsors that are already written into their scripts. Breaking the fourth wall beyond anything you’ve seen before, you watch the film honestly waiting for a camera to walk onstage any moment.

While playing up the conventions of standard documentary filmmaking, the film fuels upon itself bursting with hilarious jabs and stings at how sly and how in your face brand integration truly can be. Spiced up with hilarious commercials that pop up once in awhile featuring the films own sponsors, the tone is kept light and hilarious while the whole thing winds up feeling almost more like a real life spoof. Featuring everything from being presented by PoM Wonderful to other sponsors including JetBlue, Hyatt Hotels and Mane ‘N Tail’s continued refusal to participate, at one point we learn that for the film to be considered successful, one thing it needs is to make approximately 600,000,000 impressions; let the “Greatest Movie Ever Sold” impressions commence.

Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Classics